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April 10th, 2011

And you kids get off my lawn!

I must be getting old. Or maybe I have been writing for so long, it's hard to read for pure enjoyment. I just finished an excellent historical mystery. The characters were well drawn and historically accurate. The setting was well researched and well described. The mystery itself was intricate, and the writer played fair in giving enough information to let the reader solve the puzzle of who did the murder. But something interfered with my enjoyment in reading the book: comma splices.

I don't know if they still call them that, but when I was in school whenever someone strung two independent clauses together and connected them with only a comma, the teacher put a big red X on the page and called it a comma splice. This book, excellent as was otherwise, had a dozen or so comma splices. When I noticed the first one, I figured the writer and the editor had somehow missed it. After the second I thought, “How sloppy!” By the third one I started to wonder if there had even been an editor. I finally concluded that neither the editor nor the writer knew or cared what a comma splice was. There were a few formatting errors— run together paragraphs and odd hyphenation— but I don't blame the author or even the editor for that. That almost certainly happened when the print book was converted to an ebook and no one proofed it. But comma splices had to have been there all along!

Here's an example:

‘She was a wanton, she tempted me!’

I don't generally like semicolons in dialog, but I would not have complained if these two related but still independent clauses had been linked with a semicolon. Alternatively, there could have been an and between them. But they cannot be linked by a mere comma!

Argh! Now I have to decide whether to buy the next book or not. I think I will get the free sample (usually 10% of the book) and see if the author can go that long without a comma splice, in which case there is hope.

Anyone else got a grammar or punctuation tic that sets them off?


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